Every once in a while, nature shows off some extremely amazing sites, and rarer still, will share those amazing acts with a few select humans … generally those that have gone out of their way to escape the rat race and who spend enough time out in the natural world to gain even a glimpse of such sites. One of the most fascinating sites I have ever seen in my life, not just in appearance, but in attitude and bearing, was a truly fantastic albino buck, Whitetail deer.
From its youth to its final demise, I happened to see this particular buck on many occasions, even to the extent of sharing a meal or two with it … in a manner of speaking at least. A great many of the local people had seen it, but as far as I know, I was the only one there when it made its last stand against humanity, paying the ultimate price, merely for being what it was.
I had been out hunting for a few days the first time I managed to catch a glimpse of that magnificent creature. As it was during the middle of a rather heavy snowstorm, just shy of a blizzard in reality, I had to do a double-take and make sure I was seeing what I actually had seen.
After a little bit of tracking, I caught another view of it, but now it seemed aware of my presence, though strikingly, quite unconcerned. I do not know how it supposed that I would never shoot it, but it sure did seem to me that he knew in no uncertain terms that he was not in any danger.
I generally did not carry my camera with me when I was hunting, as my old Nikormat was far too expensive and the going far too rough … and I never hunted for trophies so much as meat anyhow. If I would have had my camera though, he would have made for some truly spectacular shots.
He did, for all the world, seem not only aware of my presence there, but wholly unconcerned … or perhaps even conceited … as it may be a more fitting term. He made quite sure that I saw his small antlers, pawed at the ground, not so much challenging me as putting on a show it seemed.
While I never put much stock in sitting around the general store, playing checkers or engaging in idle gossip, I knew I had to brag about what I had seen … though apparently I was not the only one that had seen it. While it was never the subject of too much conversation during the off season, virtually all of the local hunters had seen it, and it apparently, enjoying the attention it received, had put on quite the show for virtually all of us who had shown enough interest to make it worthwhile for that buck.
Over the years, it grew of course, and so did its rack. By local standards, it was a twenty-three point buck, meaning that it had a grand total of twenty-three actual points on its rack of antlers. Some folks out west measure the deer “rack points” using only the one side with the lower number of points, so the numbering or measure of that buck would be different depending on where one was at the time.
As it grew, it was of course, challenged much more frequently during rutting season. As a great many of us would begin scouting out our preferred hunting areas well before the start of the actual hunting season, this gave opportunity for a great many of us to see it in action. That older Albino buck seemed to take an exceptional pride in his appearance and loved showing off all the more as he aged and grew.
If there were people around, he would seem almost intent on catching our attention and putting on a show for us. For whatever reason, he seemed so self-assured and confident that nobody would ever shoot him, and it was with great delight that many of us gathered at the general store to give our reports of his whereabouts and whatever antics he may have performed.
If I have any regrets whatsoever, they are only that I never had my camera with me and that I never made any effort to get close enough to touch him. Despite popular belief, even some feral deer are not wholly objectionable to human contact, and some relish it. I had laid out the occasional salt block and even some feed in the areas where I knew it would be, especially during the colder winters, but I had never made an effort to get close enough to touch him or see how he would react to being fed by hand or “petted” insofar as it is possible to pet a wild buck.
As I wandered out one morning during hunting season some years after I had first seen him, I again found myself virtually lost in my thoughts about that albino buck and whether or not I would see him during my foray into the wilderness. Had I known what I would be witness too however, I would have wished for far more … and left much sooner.
When I heard the branches cracking under feet, and smelled the cigarette smoke in the air, I knew immediately that these were not any of the local people out in our woods. These people often came in from the cities and even from surrounding states to harvest the wonderful bounty God had foreseen to grant to our mountains of home.
I had heard random shots, but that did not bother me too much, as I knew I was well aware of where they were and could easily get their attention with a well-placed round if need be, but none of the shots seemed to be coming my way so I did not really pay all that much attention.
Far too often I had come across the remnants of a deer shot by these city slickers and would be Outsiders, waiting to make their final camp1. Their Modus Operandi seemed to be shooting the biggest buck they could find, chopping off the head and the back legs and leaving the rest of the deer to rot in the middle of their breeding grounds.
Such actions as far as I was concerned, bordered on the criminal, even if they were not wholly against the law per sé.
Even if they were not at all interested in the meat, that harvest could still feed a great many families, but these kinds of people, I knew all too well, were only concerned about whatever trophies they could hang on their walls and whatever easy pickings they could get off the remains. As far as I was concerned, they were the ones that should be strung up, but not on the walls … but I digress.
When at last I did find the albino buck, I tried for all the world to run it off back deep into the mountains where it would be safe. It however, true to its nature, seemed only to want to put on a show for me. The noise it made would have allowed a blind man to hear it, and it was not long before that group of drunken slobs from the city … or whatever depths they may have hailed from, came across that old albino buck.
What happened next surprised me some, though looking back, I wonder if it may not have been intentional, even as strange as that may sound coming from me.
The Buck noticed the group of city slickers probably about the same time I did. The smell of cigarettes burning in the woods and the sound of branches breaking underfoot could only be signs of intrusion from people who did not belong there2. Given the hoots and hollers that broke loose from them as they came into sight, I was all too painfully aware of the fact that they had seen the albino buck before them.
The albino buck had been standing tall and proud, looking in the direction of the disturbance and never seeking to run away. I cannot say as I understand such behavior, as usually such an intrusion would naturally encourage any local wildlife to run in the opposite direction. As a hail of bullets cut through the branches and the brush surrounding the buck, it simply ducked its head down and walked off slowly, making it all too easy for them to maintain a good track.
I wanted to scream, and I wanted to take a few potshots in their general direction to discourage any consideration of pursuit that they may be harboring, but, sad as it may be for some people to contemplate, the law does not care about right or wrong, but only about the law … and the truth was, they were, unless drunken, probably well within the law … I held my fire despite my judgment and desire to the contrary.
They continued to noisily chase after the buck … as I seriously doubt any of them could have tracked one of their own numbers through a mud coated field, laden with their own fresh footprints … but again, I digress.
I maintained my distance, now even hoping they would start shooting in my direction so I had an excuse to chase them off the track that they were on, but, despite making substantially more noise than I normally did in the woods, they remained focused on that albino buck … and I kept my distance to the outside.
As we went along, the same scene repeated itself a few times. The buck would stop long enough for them to catch up, stand there defiantly while they shot up the surrounding branches and brush, and then continue on its way, slowly enough for even these drunken clots to keep up with him.
On the last occasion however, something was notably different. I know how crazy it must sound, but I swear that old buck looked straight over at me, pawed once at the ground with his front right hoof and lowered his head, almost as if he were bowing down to me … or saying goodbye perhaps?
The albino buck had stopped along a ridge line with a steep drop off into the rocks and field below. There were no trees around it, and no brush to provide even a partial covering. The deer was standing tall and proud right on the edge of the cliff, looking for all the world like an advertisement for visiting the great outdoors.
Now these city slickers had proven what poor shots they were on numerous occasions before then, but sometimes, you can line up a shot so easy that even the most inexperienced marksman, regardless of whether or not he may have a case of buck fever, will be able to hit the mark.
I was stricken with a mix of emotions as they all opened up and I saw the first round hit. I was angered and saddened and stricken with rage and grief all at the same time. I desperately wanted to act, but knowing that the buck was already hit and would have to be put down anyhow, and knowing that, despite their seeming drunken nature, they could pass it off as “buck fever” and likely be held to be on the right side of the law while I would be seen as a common criminal in action.
The buck continued to stand proud even after the first round … and the second round … and the third round hit. It took a total of seven rounds hitting that buck before he finally went down, and when he did, he tumbled down the side of the cliff, bouncing off the rocks as he dropped.
The high fives and cheers of the drunken city slickers only sickened me further, so it was all I could manage to stay in place quietly at that particular moment in time. As they finally began to make their way up to where the buck had been standing, their cheers quickly turned to scorn and disgust as they noted the work it would take to retrieve the deer … or even any parts of it that they may have deemed fit to keep while leaving the rest to rot away, wasted.
At long last … forever it seemed to me, they finally began to saunter off, chiding and deriding one another for losing that buck, none willing to take responsibility for their own actions.
I had not had any intentions of being out all night, but I never head out into the woods without the basic means of survival in case I should get snowed in, and I began the long and arduous trek down the rocky cliff face to where the buck had fallen below. I knew I would be there at least one night, and maybe two, but it was almost as if I owed at least that much to someone … some thing … that had in some ways at least, been almost like a friend, if not a kindred spirit.
I debated on field stripping it and packing the meat out to pass out to the more needy families, but that not only seemed somewhat disrespectful, but also would put me under the watchful gaze of the (new at the time) game warden in town, who was still looking to make a name for himself.
It took the better part of the first day just to bury that buck, but I finally managed to dig out what I deemed would be a proper enough grave, and one that would allow it to rest unmolested from any critters that may be seeking an easy lunch. I spent the second night there, knowing I would not have enough daylight left to get out of the woods. I marked the grave, though I cannot really say why, but it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
I had to tell of what I had seen when I got back into town and had occasion to visit the general store. If the same group of guys had been the ones that had come through before me, they had seemingly been drunk … and seeking more liquor to boot. Maybe I could have gotten away with a warning shot or three, but now I will never know.
However, I did find occasion to visit that grave on occasion, and I could not help but notice that a whole lot of other local people had been leaving their own markers in respect as well. There were salt licks, crosses and even a few personal belongings at that grave site, each and every time I happened by. I had to wonder when everything was said and done, just how many lives that old Albino buck had managed to touch.
1An “Outsiders Camp” was, in the days of my youth, a term used to describe the final resting place of people unfamiliar with the woods and unprepared to deal with contingencies in the woods. Most would be found in the back of pickup trucks or in cars with the windows rolled up, and an empty coleman lantern or heater still in the on position, where they had suffocated peacefully in their sleep. Others would not be discovered til much later in the summer or spring months when the thaw was sufficient to expose their remains, and somebody happened along the same path and found their bodies.
2The only animals that will step on branches are an animal who has been panicked or a man. The constant crunching of branches underfoot indicate a man who clearly is not accustomed to walking in the woods or someone who, in their drunken state, is completely unaware and unconcerned about their surroundings.